Instruction & Intervention

System-wide Evidence-based Instruction

The effectiveness of a school district's literacy program and reading achievement depends on the implementation of evidence-based Tier I (core or universal) instruction. Schools cannot “intervene” their way out of ineffective classroom curriculum, assessment, and instruction practices.

Evidence-based literacy curriculum and instruction in K-5 can prevent or address reading difficulties for all students. If schools do not use a robust, evidence-based Tier 1 curriculum at the K-2 level, large portions of students will fall into the at-risk category on screening assessments making small group interventions in a MLSS/MTSS/RTI system logistically difficult and impractical (Baker et al., 2010).

Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction are meant to supplement, not replace, core instruction. Students who are at-risk need to be exposed to grade-level instruction in order to grow background knowledge, learn vocabulary, and participate in rich discussions about texts. Participating in both the classroom teaching at Tier 1 and intervention at the Tier 2, or Tier 3 give at-risk students the much-needed support to close the gap between their currently reading development and proficient reading of grade level peers.

It is critical to align planning of core and intervention literacy programs. Carefully differentiated literacy plans are structured so that the approach, strategies, skills, and materials align for individual students in core and intervention services.

High quality instruction includes curricula, teaching practices, and learning environments across the system. Delivering high quality instruction starts with identifying the academic and early learning standards, behavioral expectations, and social and emotional competencies valued by the community and that lead to college and career readiness. Educators use rigorous and relevant academic and social and emotional curriculum aligned to these values and standards. To develop learners’ academic, behavioral, social, and emotional knowledge, skills, and habits, educators employ high leverage evidence-based teaching practices, delivered through an agreed-upon instructional framework. Educators use Universal Design for Learning principles and culturally responsive practices to inform the development and delivery of instruction in well-managed classrooms to reach, challenge, and engage every learner.

High quality teaching practices are more likely to positively impact learners when delivered in settings where learners feel safe, supported, and proud to be themselves. Educators ensure learner identities are positively represented in curricular materials and throughout the physical environment. Through words and actions, educators convey messages of high expectations and care for each learner. Educators respect and take time to learn about beliefs, practices, and experiences of learners and families. Educators use this understanding to design and deliver instruction that helps learners achieve success in mainstream society while sustaining their identities, home culture, and language.

Wisconsin’s Framework for Equitable Multi-Level Systems of Supports - 8

The Case for Explicit Instruction & Structured Literacy

Research shows that explicit instruction benefits all students, but is essential for students who struggle to learn to read and write (Vaughn and Fletcher, 2021). Moreover, according to the International Dyslexia Association, effective instruction for students with dyslexia should be explicit, systematic, cumulative, structured, and multisensory (Moats, 2020). The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires that instruction be designed to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities.

It can be challenging to incorporate all of these components into literacy instruction. Literacy instruction in many schools is not highly explicit or systematic. Important foundational skills are often only briefly addressed, even with striving readers (Moats, 2019). Many teachers don't have texts and instructional materials that explain how to teach literacy in a direct, explicit, and systematic way.

Structured literacy is a comprehensive approach that is effective for all students, and is essential for students with dyslexia (Moats, 2020). It is also beneficial for English learners (Baker et al., 2014; Gersten et al., 2008; Kamil et al., 2008; Vaughn et al., 2006). Structured literacy addresses all aspects of literacy in a clear way that the student can understand.

Structured Literacy Emphasizes:

  • Direct, explicit, systematic teaching of phonics through a phoneme grapheme level approach

  • Teaching phonemic awareness skills from beginning to advanced levels

  • Coordinated decoding and encoding instruction using integrated materials

  • Shifting away from the use of leveled, predictable readers to the use of decodable texts as part of an integrated set of literacy materials

  • Shifting away from teaching and assessing meaning, structure, and visual cues to encouraging close attention to the text and application of decoding skills (Spear-Swerling, 2019)

  • Giving all students access to grade-level reading and critical thinking with texts that build knowledge and vocabulary though a knowledge-building curriculum

“Ninety percent of children with reading difficulties will achieve grade level in reading if they receive help by first grade. Seventy-five percent of children whose help is delayed to age nine or later continue to struggle throughout their school careers.”

Vellutino et al., 1996

What to Teach: Elements of Structured Literacy Instruction

Structured literacy instruction is marked by several elements that work together (IDA, 2018):

Phonology: The study of the sound structure of spoken words is a key element of structured literacy instruction. Phonemic awareness (the ability to distinguish, segment, blend, manipulate sounds relevant to reading and spelling) is central to phonology.

Sound-Symbol Association: Once students develop phoneme awareness, they must learn the alphabetic principle— how to map phonemes to letters (graphemes) and vice versa.

Syllables: Knowing the six syllable / vowel grapheme types helps readers associate vowel spellings with vowel sounds. Syllable division rules help readers divide and decode unfamiliar words.

Morphology: A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in language. Studying base elements and affixes helps readers decode and unlock the meanings of complex words.

Syntax: The set of principles that dictate the sequence and function of words in a sentence includes grammar, sentence structure, and the mechanics of language.

Semantics: Semantics is concerned with meaning. The structured literacy curriculum (from the start) includes instruction in the comprehension and appreciation of written language.

These six content areas work together to encompass the knowledge that all students need to become competent decoders and encoders, and should all be taught, practiced, and assessed in general education classrooms. As with all skills, some students need more explicit instruction and practice than others.

The elements of structured literacy are represented in models of reading such as The Simple View of Reading, The National Reading Panel's 5 Components of Reading Instruction and Scarborough’s Reading Rope.

Dyslexia Connection: Some students with dyslexia will need supplemental instruction in all six areas, while others will require additional instruction and practice with fewer skills. Supplemental instruction should always be targeted to specific student needs.

How to Teach: Evidence-Aligned Principles of Instruction

Structured literacy’s evidence-based teaching principles guide how the elements are taught (IDA, 2018 and Moats, 2020):

Explicit: The teacher explains each concept directly and clearly, providing guided practice. Lessons use instructional routines like quick practice drills to build fluency or using fingers to tap out sounds before spelling words. The student applies each new concept to reading and writing words and text, while the teacher gives immediate feedback and guidance. Students are not expected to figure out language concepts from just hearing language or seeing print.

Systematic & Cumulative: The teacher teaches language concepts one by one, explaining how each element fits into the whole. They follow a planned scope and sequence of skills that progresses from easier to harder. One concept builds on another. The goal of instruction is for the student to reach automatic and fluent reading for meaning.

Diagnostic: Teachers must be skilled at individualizing instruction (even within groups) based on careful and continuous assessment, both informal (e.g., observation) and formal (e.g., with standardized measures). Content must be mastered to the degree of automaticity needed to free attention and mental resources for comprehension and oral/written expression.

Principles of structured literacy instruction are consistent with the wider scientific research base for literacy assessment and instruction across listening, speaking, reading, and writing domains and integrate findings from models of reading such as The Simple View of Reading, The National Reading Panel's 5 Components of Reading Instruction and Scarborough’s Reading Rope.

Structured literacy may also integrate other evidence-based instructional practices, including:

Mnemonic techniques, retrieval cues which associate information with something more accessible or meaningful to improve retention or retrieval (remembering) of information. Mnemonics can be linguistic, spatial, visual, kinetics (physical), and verbal. The effect of mnemonics (0.8) has the potential to accelerate learning (Hattie).

Multisensory or multimodal methods, hands-on learning such as moving tiles into sound boxes, using hand gestures to support memory, building words with letter tiles, making sentences with words on cards, and color-coding sentences in paragraphs. These activities integrate listening, speaking, reading, and writing to build language learning. Analysis of research currently available identifies an effect size of (0.55), indicating that multisensory or multimodal methods may have the potential to accelerate learning (Hattie). Many educators report that engaging multiple senses at once (e.g., saying sounds or letter names during letter formation or spelling) assists in moving information more accurately and quickly into long-term memory.

Use of specific evidence-based instructional practices should be consistently integrated in all learning settings from the classroom through intensive intervention.

Dyslexia Connection: The 10-15 % of students represented in the red area at the bottom of The Ladder of Reading & Writing are students who struggle to read even with strong core instruction. This includes students with dyslexia. Research shows that these students require “the most carefully designed and explicitly delivered instruction, and often need many repetitions.” (Hasbrouck)

Putting It All Together

Integration of Evidence-aligned Elements and Principles of Instruction

Instruction must be effective within universal core curriculum, differentiated classroom instruction, targeted interventions in an MLSS/MTSS/RTI system, and intensive instruction in special education. Content must be covered systematically and cumulatively. However, if learning is not progressing as intended, responsive instruction must be provided.

Effective reading instruction integrates the elements and principles of structured literacy and evidence-based instructional methods simultaneously and intentionally. Phonemic awareness and phonics reinforce each other, reading and spelling are practiced as reciprocal skills, and morphology and syntax connect decoding, spelling, and vocabulary.

All skills should also be applied to reading and writing of connected text as soon as possible, beginning with decodable text and sentence creation and moving on to include less-controlled text and longer pieces of writing.

Awareness of the highly effective instructional and intervention approaches from the research studies that prompted RTI is missing from the current translation of research to practice. The focus of RTI implementation has largely been on 1) universal screening, 2) structure, 3) processes, and 4) progress monitoring. "We have more or less superimposed the RTI frameworks and processes onto existing instructional and intervention approaches. This is the likely reason why we have not been experiencing the powerful results found in those original NICHD studies."

David Kilpatrick

Prompting Readers

Reading and spelling are language skills. Instruction and feedback must draw the student’s attention to the sound structure of words and the phoneme-grapheme correspondences and morphology (prefixes, suffixes, and base words or roots) that influence how they are written.

Instruction that prompts students to guess at words from pictures, context, or the first letter, or tells them to memorize words without relating them to their sound structure or meaning, might help a child recognize a finite number of words. However, these strategies will not build a robust sight-word bank.

Prompts that encourage readers to guess rather than apply phonics to decode unfamiliar words build the strategies and habits of struggling readers. When language skills are difficult for a child, as they are for students with dyslexia, students gravitate toward these inefficient reading strategies because they seem easier. Unfortunately, these unproductive guessing and memorization habits are hard to overcome once they are established.

To teach readers how to decode challenging words accurately and automatically, the teacher must use prompts that help the reader understand and internalize the logic of the written code. When students don't focus on the letters and sounds in the word and apply phonics knowledge to their reading, they continue to guess and lose meaning from the text.

To be most effective, prompts should match the routines and spelling patterns of an explicit systematic phonics program and be used consistently between classroom and intervention instruction. Parent education can support consistent prompting when students read with adults outside of school.

The first step in prompting a reader is for the teacher or parent to think about the word the child said and how it is different from the printed word. Once the error is identified, prompt for a correction.

Reading Multisyllable Words with Xavier, Third Grader. (2019). Reading Rockets. (12:30)

The best 'cue' to a word is the word itself. That is the great thing about an alphabetic writing system: the spelling of a word tells you what the word is.

Dr. Mark Seidenberg

Additional Resources about Prompting Readers:

Structured Literacy Block

Coming Soon

Example Lessons

Coming Soon

Identifying Instructional Focus of Intervention

Data compiled from skill-based universal screening assessments is used to inform instructional planning of Tier 1 instruction for students who are identified as at-risk and helps target Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions.

Further diagnostic assessment is needed to plan intervention instruction that appropriately meets the needs of students. Diagnostic assessment allows schools to gather data that shows strengths and weaknesses efficiently, with optimal reliability and validity. Successful small-group differentiation depends on knowing the students' skill strengths and weaknesses in specific areas (Hasbrouck).

Informal diagnostic assessments can be used by classroom teachers, Title I teachers, or reading specialists to identify the specific area(s) of need for students. They differ from the formal, norm-referenced assessments school psychologists or special education teaches might use to determine special education eligibility (Hasbrouck).

Alignment of Instruction & Intervention

It is critical to align core and intervention instruction for each student to avoid any confusion. Carefully differentiated literacy plans are structured so the approach, strategies, skills, and materials align for individual students in core instruction and intervention services.

System choices and actions made to respond to students' backgrounds, neurodiversity, and individual needs ensure equitable access to reading success.

Alignment of approaches, strategies, skills, and materials should be carefully considered in core and intervention (Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, and Special Education), across levels (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) to begin working towards equity through literacy.

Districts should aim to work solely in the Explicit, Systematic, Direct column, which is aligned to the science of reading (SoR).

Use of Intervention Time

A series of studies, many sponsored by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) in the United States, prompted the implementation of MLSS/MTSS/RTI frameworks. One of the most influential studies behind RTI and Tier 2 intervention is Vellutino et al. (1996). Researchers examined existing scientific findings that showed that most struggling readers had difficulty with phonological coding, including:

  • Phonemic awareness

  • Rapid automatized naming

  • Phonological working memory

  • Visual-phonological paired-associate learning

Vellutino and colleagues (1996) used these findings to design the intervention they implemented and studied with K-2 students. Intervention time was equally divided between decoding and application of decoding:

  • 50% - phonemic awareness, phonic decoding, word identification strategies

  • 50% - practicing reading texts appropriate to the children's level of reading development

"If we are not using the kind of effective intervention approaches that were used in the original RTI studies, it should be no surprise that we are not achieving the results they did."

David Kilpatrick

The effects of different uses of intervention time for intensive word reading interventions on 3rd-5th grade students with reading disabilities were examined in a NICHD-funded study published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities (Torgesen et al., 2001).

Researchers examined existing scientific findings that showed that students with word-level reading problems and disabilities had two areas of skill deficits:

"First, when they encounter a word they are not familiar with, they tend to place too much reliance on guessing the word based on the contexts of the passage.... Their phonemic analysis skill, or ability to use phonics to assist in the word identification process, is usually severely impaired.... Second, children with reading disabilities encounter many more words in grade-level texts that they cannot read "by sight" than do average readers.... Compared to children of the same age who are learning to read normally, the number of words that children with reading disabilities can recognize fluently and easily as orthographic units is usually quite limited." (p. 35).

Torgesen et al. (2001) also reviewed advances in research on reading, noting:

"word reading disabilities are caused primarily by weaknesses in the ability to process the phonological features of language" (p. 35).

In addition, Torgesen and colleagues also identified instructional elements found in studies with stronger gains in word-level reading, including:

  • Intensive phonemic awareness instruction

  • Explicit systematic phonics instruction

  • Practice connecting phonemic awareness skills and phonic skills

  • Text reading practice

The identified instructional principles were tested using two different distributions of instructional time. The same skills were targeted (phonemic awareness, phonics, and reading practice with single words and passages) in the 67.5-hour intervention, but the proportion of time was substantially different.

Group 1

  • 85% - Phonemic awareness & phonics

  • 10% - Orthographic mapping of high frequency words

  • 5% - Reading & comprehending text

Group 2

  • 20% - Phonemic awareness & phonics

  • 30% - Orthographic mapping of high frequency words

  • 50% - Reading & comprehending text

The findings from both intervention groups were similar and replicated four studies of older students and adults cited by Torgesen and colleagues. Average gains in standard score points on norm referenced assessments included:

Group 1

  • 27.8 - Phonemic decoding skill (nonsense word reading)

  • 14 - Untimed context free word identification (word reading)

  • 27.8 - Nonsense word reading

  • 5 - Timed real word reading

2 Year Follow-up - Group 1

  • 18 - Untimed context free word identification

  • 17 - Word reading accuracy in paragraph subtest

  • 12 - Timed real word reading

  • 0 - Paragraph reading fluency compared to peers (*WPM raw score nearly tripled)

Almost 40% of the students no longer needed special education services in reading at the one-year follow-up. At the two-year follow-up, 60-75 % of severely reading disabled students had large gains on some word reading measures that were sustained over time (Kilpatrick).

Torgesen et al. (2001) cited studies and subsequent studies showing that older children and adults with severe word-reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, can demonstrate progress with instruction that includes phonemic awareness skills, phonics skills, and the opportunity to integrate and practice them and apply them to text. Without these instructional elements, there is no research to suggest older struggling readers will make large and sustainable improvements in reading (Kilpatrick).

In addition, findings from this study support prevention and early intervention (K-2) efforts to help avoid the longer-term lags in reading fluency evidenced in this and other studies (Kilpatrick).

Even if students did not reach average performance, they made very large and sustained gains in word reading. While many did not "close the gap" with their typically developing peers, these large gains allowed them to narrow it substantially.

David Kilpatrick

Questions to Consider:

  • Can the district, building, classroom, or individual literacy plans better reflect the neurodiversity of our student population?

  • Are intervention options SoR aligned and differentiated to meet the diverse needs of our student population?

  • What SoR aligned intervention options should be available at each tier for students at risk for dyslexia?

  • What decision-making rules should be established to place students based on screening and diagnostic assessment data?

  • How can these options be framed along a continuum that increases in intensity toward Tier 3?

  • How can parents be supported in applying evidence aligned practices at home?

“Restricting access to intervention may satisfy the aim to limit school resources allocated for these purposes, but is not the kind of equitable and adequate system one would want."

Susan Brady (2019)

Building Educator Capacity

To better serve students, teachers must understand the structure of the English language, evidence aligned assessment, and instructional practices. Developing a technical, more detailed understanding allows teachers to more accurately assess learning and intentionally match instruction and intervention to the needs of the student.

Being a skilled reader does not ensure the knowledge and skill needed to teach reading. Individuals who have learned to read without much effort themselves may need professional development to initiate conscious awareness of the reading and spelling process. Previously, portions of this essential knowledge and these skills have been reserved for Wisconsin speech-and-language therapists, occupational therapists, and some Wisconsin special education teachers. We now know that an understanding of structured literacy is essential for all teachers of reading to work toward equity through literacy.

The International Dyslexia Association’s Educator Training Initiatives (ETI) Committee has developed and refined the Knowledge and Practice Standards (KPS) to clarify the knowledge and skills all teachers of reading should possess to ensure all students can read proficiently.

Structured literacy encompasses all approaches to language and literacy instruction that conform to IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards. This includes, but is not limited to, Orton-Gillingham (OG) and Multisensory Structured Language Education (MSLE).

The term structured literacy is not designed to replace OG or MSLE, but is an umbrella term designed to describe all the approaches and programs that provide a strong core of highly explicit, systematic teaching of foundational skills as well as explicit teaching of other core components of literacy (Malchow, 2019).

Podcasts & Videos

(2019) An Overview of Structured Literacy. Center for Dyslexia MTSU. (8:31).

(2021) Why Bring the Science of Reading & Structured Literacy into the Classroom: A Talk w/ Margie Gillis. Decoding Dyslexia CA. (1:02).

(2020) Introduction to Structured Literacy | Danielle Thompson. International Dyslexia Association, Oregon. School of Education UP. (1:04).

(2021) Structured Literacy Applying the Science of Reading in the Classroom. Lexia Learning. (57:06).

(2021) Decodable Text Linda Farrell Michael Hunter. The Reading League Wisconsin. (1:05).

Additional Resources About Explicit Instruction & Structured Literacy


Baker, S. K., Fien, H., & Baker, D. L. (2010). Robust reading instruction in the early grades: Conceptual and practical issues in the integration and evaluation of Tier 1 and Tier 2 instructional supports. Focus on exceptional children, 42(9).

Cowen, C. D. (2016). What is structured literacy? International Dyslexia Association. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from

International Dyslexia Association. (2018). Structured literacy instruction: The basics. Reading Rockets.

International Dyslexia Association Central Ohio. (2020, November). Dyslexia screening, intervention, and teacher training roadmap 1.0: A guide for school districts serving learners with dyslexia.

Hasbrouck, Jan. (2020). Conquering dyslexia: A guide to early detection and intervention for teachers and families. Benchmark Education Company, NY. (121)

Kilpatrick, David. (2020, January). The study that prompted Tier 2 of RTI: Why aren't our Tier 2 results as good?. The Reading League Journal. 1(1), 28-31.

Kilpatrick, David. (2021, January). Can older struggling readers improve their word-reading skills? The Reading League Journal. 2 (1), 23-29.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2021). Massachusetts dyslexia guidelines: Appendix C Assistive Technology (AT) Considerations. Specific Learning Disability: Dyslexia.

Moats, L. (2019, October 16). Of ‘hard words’ and straw men: Let’s understand what reading science is really about. Voyager Sopris Learning.

Moats, L. (2020, July 15). Structured literacy: Effective instruction for students with dyslexia and related reading difficulties. International Dyslexia Association.

Spear-Swerling, L. (2019). Structured literacy and typical literacy practices: Understanding differences to create instructional opportunities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 51, 201-211.

Torgesen, J.K., Alexander, A.W., Wagner, R.K., Rashotte, C.A., Voeller, K.K.S., & Conway, T. (2001). Intensive remedial instruction for children with severe reading, disabilities: Immediate and long term outcomes from two instructional approaches. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 34(1), 33-58, 78.

Vaughn, S., & Fletcher, J. (2021). Explicit instruction as the essential tool for executing the science of reading. The Reading League Journal, 2(2), 4–10.

Vellutino, F.R., Scanlon, D.M., Sipay, E.R., Small, S.G., Pratt, A., Chen, R., Denckla, M. B. (1996). Cognitive profiles of difficult-to-remediate and readily remediated poor readers: Early intervention as a vehicle for distinguishing between cognitive and experiential deficits as basic causes of specific reading disability. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 601-638.


Figure 1. Cowen, C. D. (2016). Why structured literacy? [Infographic]. From What is structured literacy? International Dyslexia Association. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from

Figure 2. Cowen, C. D. (2016). Structured literacy's ELEMENTS work together [Infographic]. From What is structured literacy? International Dyslexia Association. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from

Figure 3. Cowen, C. D. (2016). These PRINCIPLES guide how structured literacy's elements are taught [Infographic]. From What is structured literacy? International Dyslexia Association. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from

Figure 4. Cowen, C. D. (2016). Effective reading instruction for most children involves all this [Infographic]. From What is structured literacy? International Dyslexia Association. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from

Figure 5. International Dyslexia Association Central Ohio. (2020, November 2). Core & intervention [Infographic]. From Dyslexia screening, intervention, and teacher training roadmap 1.0: A guide for school districts serving learners with dyslexia. p. 27

Figure 6. International Dyslexia Association Central Ohio. (2020, November 2). Dyslexia screening, intervention, and teacher training roadmap 1.0: A guide for school districts serving learners with dyslexia. p. 26

Figure 7. Cowen, C. D. (2016). Deep content knowledge and specific teaching expertise needed [Infographic]. From What Is Structured Literacy? International Dyslexia Association. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from